Last week's big questions: Should the CofE disestablish? Europe: in or out?

This week's questions are answered by Baroness Neuberger, author, broadcaster and Senior Rabbi to the West London Synagogue


Where do the obligations lie in resolving the current crisis in the Middle East?

The current crisis in the Middle East requires everyone to take a big step back. It’s clearly unacceptable for Israeli civilians to have rockets fired into their midst. Equally, air strikes on Gaza that disproportionately affect civilians are unacceptable, too. At the moment, both sides feel as if they have “won”. Now’s the time for the new power brokers in the region – Turkey, Egypt (even with its present difficulties), and Qatar – to work with the old power brokers, notably the United States, and see if negotiations can take place. I’d hope – but maybe I’m an idealist – for the ceasefire to hold long enough for serious talks and progress towards a lasting peace.


As a woman rabbi, how do you view the Church of England’s rejection of women bishops?

I’m outraged by the way the Church of England has handled the issue of women bishops. As a Jew, I cannot comment on the theology surrounding women in leadership in Christianity. But once women were accepted as priests, this is a slap in the face, can have no theological grounds, and shows an absolute disregard for wider public opinion. The Church of England, as an established church, has a responsibility to society at large. It is beginning to look as if it is incapable of carrying out that responsibility.


Should the CofE disestablish?

In many ways, it might be good for the Church of England to disestablish – it might well give it new energy and force it to think differently. However, the present incompetence over women bishops is not a good starting point. I would normally be quite relaxed about disestablishment, since I think England gains from its established church and all the vagaries that go with it, including the bishops in the House of Lords. But the issues of gay marriage and women bishops have made me reconsider. I’ll remain on the fence while we see how the leaders of the Church now sort this out.


Should the press be subject to statutory regulation?

If the press cannot be bound by voluntary self-regulation – and thus far the evidence that it can has been unconvincing – some form of statutory regulation might be necessary. For me, the principle is that of a free press. But the price of freedom is acting responsibly. Some parts of the press have not done so. If we don’t see – in what may well be the very last-chance saloon – the press behaving more responsibly, I fear we’ll come to some form of statutory press regulation. And that would be a very sad day.


Does Ireland have a duty of care to its citizens to legislate for abortion?

Ireland now has to reflect very hard on three separate issues. First, is it legitimate to impose the view of one religious group on the whole state? Ireland, traditionally a Roman Catholic country, is far less so these days, with Mass attendance down, the Protestant church of Ireland growing, and an infinitely more diverse population than hitherto.

Second, the woman whose case sparks this question was neither Irish nor a Catholic. Can it be right in this millennium – when the state cannot hold up its head and say it is truly Catholic, when the Taoiseach has made it clear that the Church is not above the law on child abuse – for people who are not Catholic to be subject to Catholic views on abortion?

Third, for everyone, surely it is time to say, when a foetus is not viable, and the mother’s life is in danger, that this is an unacceptable view for the state to impose on anyone.


Britain and Europe – in or out?

In – because we’ll be worse off isolationist and out.


As a former chair of an NHS trust and King’s Fund chief executive, where do you stand on the proposed NHS reforms?

I’m broadly in favour of GPs being more involved in purchasing decisions, but I am unconvinced by the reforms so far, and am as fearful as some of the Royal Colleges about what happens to people with mental health issues, people with rare conditions, and people who need complex and overlapping interventions.

The move towards further GP involvement could have happened without all this major reorganisation, so I am probably against the legislation. It’s time to stop moving the deckchairs in the NHS, and focus on good service delivery and the serious issues of multiple needs in an ageing society.


Is a mentor for every prisoner who leaves jail the way to stop reoffending?

A mentor for every prisoner who leaves jail would be a start. So would probation officers being able to support prisoners as soon as they leave, rather than – all too often – weeks later. This is all part of a serious attempt at rehabilitation of prisoners, which has been off the agenda of governments for far too long.


Should prisoners have the vote?

If we are serious about rehabilitating prisoners and getting them back into society, clearly they should have the vote. Punishment is imprisonment, not removing rights that make them feel part of society.

Baroness Neuberger is an author,  broadcaster, and Senior Rabbi to the West London Synagogue

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